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Books I highly recommend
Saturday, April 29, 2006
|____Okay, so I guess some expected my first post would be dated the day I got home, either to Lejeune or here at home. And I suppose there is no reason why it should not have been, I just didn't feel like it. But what to post about? Can I so easily slip right back into the customary blogging issues like nothing happened? I probably could, but I'm not really in the mood right now. Here's something I can post now: A partial list of things I learned while in Iraq:|
1. Troy really,really,really, really sucked.
____When I first saw it in '04, I could tell it was not the best it could have been, but that was because I had not read it in quite a while (not in it's entirety since 8th grade). I reread it on this deployment, and the more I read and recalled, the worse Troy became. It's not the way in which some characters are left out that makes it suck. Homer gave us an interesting story full of complex characters, at least complex enough that Richmond Lattimore felt obliged to include a section in his introduction to expounding on each of the main ones. Agamemnon is a complicated, at times confused king in the poem. As Lattimore points out, he is a little wavering, easily worried by cares or ill turns of fate, and must be braced at times by the ever cool-minded Odysseus, but always thinking of the good of his army when they are in trouble, such as from a plague or lack of Achilleus. In the movie, he is no more than an ogre, selfish, greedy, unfeeling, and seemingly incapable of any sort of loyalty or attachment at all.
____Achilleus is one of the most complex of all. He fights willingly and eagerly, never disdainful of Agamemnon or any other prince. He reacts understandably when Agamemnon tells him to take it in the shorts when someone must give up a prize, and although he cares for his own men and the rest of the Greeks, his prayer to Thetis (in Lattimore's words) amounts to outright treason. Moreover, he is also a little confused, constantly talking about leaving, yet he tortures himself by staying and watching the Greeks lose in his absence. In the movie, Achilleus, like most other characters, is infuriatingly simple. He is simply a belligerent maverick who plays by his own rules and mocks authority. Finally, he freely allows Patroklos to go into battle, which makes his subsequent death something that Achilleus must blame himself in part for. By making it Patroklos' sole (and secret) choice to go into the fighting where men win glory, Achilleus' sorrow is simply due not to his own consequential choice but to a little recklessness on the part of his friend, like that Garth Brooks song, "Beaches of Cheyenne", except that at least a country music singer knows how to add a bit of self-blaming to the mix. Also, the bit about his friend; I didn't like the way Patroklos goes from being Achilleus' friend to being his cousin, although I suppose I can't blame the moviemakers for that. It's the fault of a society that has no concept of Damon-and-Pythias style male-male friendship anymore (or at least not the platonic kind) and cannot understand how Achilleus and Patroklos can be such good friends and still both be straight.
____Hektor is too much of a golden boy, far too perfect and not quite like the Homeric Hektor. It's difficult to imagine the movie Hektor stabbing Patroklos after someone else had brought him down, fleeing from Achilleus before being rallied by a goddess, or vaunting over a defeated enemy, but Homer's Hektor does all these things. As Lattimore notes, some of this could be Homer tinkering with existing legend to make Hektor look bad, but that's only a possibility, and not too likely given that elsewhere Hektor is usually portrayed in a very good light. The movie, like it does for other characters, removes a lot of what makes Hektor complex too. Homer's Hektor knows that Paris is wrong, and that by extension the war is unjust. He fights because he doesn't want to appear as a coward in front of the "Trojans and the Trojan women with trailing garments", which Lattimore finds to be cowardice of a different sort, fear of being called a coward. Homer's Hektor tells Paris that he is selfish, lazy, and allows others to fight his cause. The movie Hektor does not have any of this dilemma, as the Atreides from the movie have already been ogreized to the point where Hektor need only say "we can't give Helen back because Menelaos won't forgive her and Agamemnon want's Troy as a fiefdom".
____Not much to say about Helen, except that unlike the movie, Homer's Helen hates Paris, says so in words, and wants to get away. Menelaos, the poet tells us, is eager to avenge her "longing to escape and her lamentations".
____Then of course, there's Briseis. The female role that was meant in legend and poem simply to be an enabler of the rest of the tragic plotline is made into a romantic heroine. The captive war widow from the poem who had three brothers, lived in a smaller nearby settlement that the Greeks took and only has two appearances and one spoken paragraph is transformed into a Trojan princess, consecrated virgin, cousin of Hektor and Paris and all-round female lead to the detriment of other more interesting characters.
____I realize that Homer's text does not make an ideal script, but they could at least have tried to include some more of Homer's lines for the characters. There are only two lines and one turn of phrase that make it into the movie. The turn of phrase is when Achilleus calls Agamemnon a "sack of wine". Achilleus says "there are no pacts between lions and men", and Priam tells Achilleus "I have endured what no man on earth has endured before" etc.
____Last of all, I really disliked those parts of the movie that could not possibly have been written in Homer's time (that being "pre-1960's) and are only there to cater to the sensibilities of today. Odysseus tells Achilleus "War is old men talking and young men dying. You know this. Ignore the politics." This is not Odysseus talking. It's not even any of Homer's characters talking. This is George McGovern talking: "I'm fed up to the ears with old men dreaming up wars for young men to die in."
2. Being a lecher is more than just bad for your soul.
____It also prevents you from seeing and appreciating a lot of the great things there are to see in life. Not to mention it restricts your communication abilities, since now just about every word in the language has a dirty second meaning for you.
3. Country music isn't as bad as I used to think.
____To be sure, a lot of it is just wearying songs of tragedy and heartbreak, but there are worthwhile exceptions. "Papa Loved Mama" by Garth Brooks is a retelling of the traditional adultery/vengeful murder story, but told from the kids point of view, and in an upbeat, humorous sort of way that suggests that this is a matter of course in these parts, the sort of thing might happen to anyone. "Little Moments" by Brad Paisly is actually a charming little love song about, well, little moments that really make life beautiful and everything else worthwhile. "Some Beach" by Blake Shelton is a funny song about a day's worth of minor annoyances told with a sense of humor and just a little bit of the woe-is-me tone.
4. XXX: State of the Union also really, really sucked, but even more than I first thought.
____I already touched on one point many months ago, namely that you can't become and officer in the Navy Seals with a criminal record involving grand theft auto. Given the trouble I went through to get a low level security clearance necessary for my job, I can't possibly swallow that idea. And now I'll go ahead and catalog a few more; Civilians cannot get the Congressional Medal of Honor, and when it is awarded, it is not for saving the president's life. If rescuing the President from a dangerous train chase is your job, then it does not count as "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of your own life, above and beyond the call of duty in an armed conflict with an enemy of the United States". And of course, only an historically illiterate idiot would hear a Tupac Shakur quote and confuse it for a Lincoln of Jefferson quote.